There’s something special in attending a perfect networking event. “Perfect” I realize is a big word to use — but FEDCON shows how things can be done very well, and the unique arrangement in North Carolina (serving the overall southeastern region) could well be an effective model for similar events elsewhere.
The concept was developed by The North Carolina Military Business Center, an intriguing organization operating under the state’s community college system, designed to connect businesses with military procurement opportunities in the state. North Carolina has several major military bases, including Fort Bragg, the largest base in the world (with an incredible 50,000 population). NCMBC consultants in several business sectors — notably with an extensive interest in construction — guide small and medium sized businesses in the nuances and processes regarding military procurement.
FEDCON goes beyond the military, with invited represntatives from other government agencies such as the Small Business Administration and the General Services Advministration. Still, the main focus is military– and I saw more generals and and other senior officers there in the day than I would see through most of the year.
Good networking rarely involves forcing yourself into immediate business dealings. (This can happen if you know people already but you won’t get a multi-million dollar contract on the trade show floor without some connections in the first place.) However, FEDCON offers plenty of valid networking arrangements, both with organized one-on-one prime/sub sessions, and direct meeting opportunities with the people who actually sign off on contracts. And within the sessions and formal programming, there is such an overload of information your mind might glaze over. Fortunately the slides and data are also provided on the NCMBC website.
I spent much of my time taking photos of people at other exhibitor booths; potential readers and possibly advertisers in North Carolina Construction News. The photo taking provides a perfect business-card gathering opportunity, since I need the cards to spell captions correctly. Although I’ll only be able to use a small portion of the photos in the publication, my goal will be to send everyone a copy of their own image — certainly an inexpensive and connecting “ice breaker” for future relationships.
After FEDCON, I had the opportunity to join another networking gathering, this time much more local in nature. The Wilmington chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors of America (ABC) has a regular social evening, and it coincided with FEDCON’s conclusion — at a location near my hotel. This was a simple, yet fun event, and it reminded me once again why it makes sense for you to belong and connect with relevant associations. Among the guests: Representatives of an employment agency which helps match contractors and electricians. Obviously this is a specialized field, but it is one where there is a natural match in interests with the non-union merit shop movement (which ABC represents).
It’s time to prepare to check out of the hotel and head to the airport to return home to Ottawa. Networking undoubtedly has value. While I need to wait some months to measure the ROI here, I’m confident the trip will prove worthwhile.